Memorial Day weekend has arrived, and while in the real world it serves as the unofficial start of summer and a chance to get away for a long weekend, in the baseball world it serves as the first true benchmark for a 162 marathon. matches.
During the first two months of the season, it can be difficult to know which early numbers are a sign of things to come and which can be written off as a small sample that will even out as the season progresses.
But Memorial Day weekend gives teams a chance to come up for air and evaluate where they and their players stand for nearly a third of the season.
With that in mind, here are three trends the Yankees identified heading into the holiday weekend, with a look at whether they’re real or not:
Aaron Judge could give his 2022 season a run for his money
Beginning in spring training, most questions about personal expectations to Aaron Judge were preceded by a caveat that it was unrealistic to think he could repeat his 62-homer season starting in 2022.
And most of the time — whether he said it or did his face — Judge’s response was, “Why not?”
Over the past two weeks, that answer came to mind when Judge came back from his IL stint and burst into tears. He hits .288 with a 1,032 OPS and 14 home runs.
“I’m not going to compare, especially with one of the most historic seasons ever,” said Kyle Higashioka. “But he’s as good as anyone has seen him this year. We like to see that from him. He is special to watch.”
OK, we’ll compare a bit.
Last year, going into Memorial Day weekend, Judge hit .313 with a 1,065 OPS and 17 home runs. But one disclaimer: As the lockout pushed back the start of the season, those numbers were down by 45 team games. This year — adding up the 10 games he missed on the IL — Judge’s numbers going into the holiday weekend are down to 52 team games.
It still remains unrealistic to expect someone to hit 62 home runs in any given season. That’s what makes it as monumental as it happens.
But Judge seems poised to put together another monster season, even if it may not rise to historic, record-breaking levels.
The Yankees use a closer committee
Clay Holmes started the season as the incumbent closer, though Aaron Boone did say during spring training that the Yankees wouldn’t be afraid to use him in the eighth inning if certain matchups dictated.
Still, it was remarkable how much the Yankees really mixed and matched the late innings this season. Excluding a three-inning save by Deivi Garcia, the Yankees have used six different relievers to record saves.
Holmes still leads the team with five saves, but as of April 14, there has only been one. Between Holmes’ fourth and fifth saves, the Yankees got saves from Wandy Peralta (three), Michael King (three), Ron Marinaccio, Ian Hamilton and even Ryan Weber.
“I love [Holmes] not strictly in the ninth,” Boone said recently. “There will be days when he closes the game. But I like putting him in situations where we think he can thrive.
Expect more shared responsibilities going forward in the ninth inning, with one wild card: If the Yankees get to the point where they feel comfortable using Michael King on consecutive days, he could become an intriguing and consistent closing option.
They are closing in on King’s potential use on consecutive days, but remain cautious about rushing that process in light of the broken elbow he suffered last July.
For now, King remains valuable as a multi-inning threat that can pitch every few days.
“I think at best you have a lot of really good, complementary options that complement each other with who they’re better off taking down and who they might be more dominant against,” Boone said. “If you align those things, you’ll be in a good place. Especially when we’re whole, I feel like we’ve got four or five guys who I can hand the ball to very comfortably in the ninth inning if they’re in the right situation.
Anthony Volpe’s hot and cold start
When the decision was made to let Anthony Volpe break from the big league team, the Yankees knew that fighting would be inevitable. They happen to just about every rookie, regardless of his position as a prospect or how well he did in spring training.
The 22-year old Volpe now hits .199 with a .649 OPS and seven home runs. Strength has been a bigger factor than some might have expected, and his instinct for running the bases showed clearly as he went 13-for-13 on stolen bases attempts. With positive defense at shortstop, he ranks fifth on the team with 1.2 bWAR.
But after Volpe got to base with a solid clip early in the season – finishing April with a .333 on-base percentage – his OBP has dropped to .284.
Two things to keep in mind: Volpe was a slow starter during his minor league career, and the Yankees believe he has the baseball IQ to make adjustments right and the mindset to not get bogged down by the struggles.
So while we don’t expect Volpe to rise all the way up to one of the league’s batting leaders, he should finish the season with his batting average and OPS a lot higher than it is today – maybe along the lines of .240/ .750.
Want to catch a game? The Yankees schedule with links to purchase tickets can be found here.
For a man who was so out of sight during his freshman year plus with the Yankees that social media thought he might not actually exist, Ben Rortvedt has left a solid first impression.
The 25-year-old catcher, who joined Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa from the Twins last year in trade for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela, was called up last week when Jose Trevino went on the injured list with a hamstring strain. .
Rortvedt has since started in two of the Yankees’ six games and made the most of the opportunities. He went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored in a victory over the Reds on Saturday, and in Thursday-evening’s loss to the Orioles, he walked both of his at bats before being picked up for a pinch-hitter.
Boone was also impressed with Rortvedt’s work behind the plate, which included being included in the Yankees’ draft system, trying to stop the Reds’ running play, and learning to catch some new pitchers on the fly. That included the sinking Holmes, who caught Rortevdt for the first time ever in the ninth inning of a 4-1 game with the shadows in effect at Great American Ball Park.
“[That] was a little different,” Rortvedt said with a grin.
Trevino is expected back soon — possibly by the time the Yankees embark on a Seattle road trip on Monday — but Rortvedt has made himself a more intriguing option, if nothing else.
Of course, if Rortvedt hadn’t been injured all camp last year after the Yankees acquired him, they might not have traded for Trevino at the end of that spring training.
“His ability and athleticism behind the plate [stands out],’ Boonen said. “He’s compact, like Trevy a little bit, really good receiver, really good hands and can really throw. Good athlete there. All those things are why we have him. It’s good to see him healthy and contributing.”
Get up Guest
Much of the fan base appeared to be celebrating last Saturday when the Yankees assigned Aaron Hicks to an assignment.
The move was supposed to happen sometime this season, barring a huge turnaround from the veteran outfielder, but that didn’t make it any easier for Hicks to swallow.
He seemed shocked and still teary-eyed as he said goodbye and exchanged hugs with teammates at the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park before returning to the team hotel to await his next instructions – the Yankees are in the midst of battle a seven-day period in which they must trade Hicks or place him on waivers (which will result in his release).
Hicks’ last three seasons with the Yankees were mostly brutal due to injuries and underperformance.
But for the most part, he didn’t run from his struggles, but remained available and honest (perhaps too much, from the team’s perspective) to reporters – including on Saturday, when he agreed to talk to The mail to speak. out of the clubhouse with bags packed. From this reporter’s perspective, that was certainly much appreciated.